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The Sacramento Kings seem like they want to make the playoffs, which — you know — good for them and stuff, but they are 7.5 games back from Dallas for the 8th seed and 13th in the Western Conference, which is a lot of ground to make up and a lot of teams to pass at this point.
One of those teams is the Timberwolves, who actually realistically expected to make the postseason this year. But the Wolves are 18-20 now, two games under .500 and beginning to tire from how long they’ve been treading water. It showed on Wednesday, as the expectation-less Kings bounded around the court dunking and raining jumpers while the Wolves plodded from end to end, looking disheartened. They made a small push at the end of the game spurred by a pair of enormous 3-pointers by Kevin Love, but it wasn’t enough as Sacramento put them away 111-108.
“I keep saying we’re better than our record indicates but until we go out there and win games in a row and beat teams that we feel we’re supposed to beat, we won’t go anywhere,” Kevin Love said after the game. “We definitely need to start winning.”
They certainly do, because that easy month of January that was supposed to save the Wolves is slipping away rather quickly. Yesterday marked the halfway point of the month, and the Wolves could have set themselves up to move over .500. Instead, Minnesota is two games below with a trip to Toronto — where the Raptors have been rolling lately — coming on Friday. After that, they have a home-and-home with Utah, and although Utah is a bad team, it’s very difficult to win both ends of back-to-back contests with the same team. Then? Golden State, Portland, Chicago, New Orleans and Memphis to close out the month. None of that is going to be easy.
If you are sick of the constant playoff talk, I don’t really blame you, and I’ll move on now. Four Kings killed the Wolves in particular — Rudy Gay with 33 points on 19 shots, DeMarcus Cousins with 20 points and a defensive effort we wouldn’t have expected last year, Isaiah Thomas with 26 points and seven assists and (here’s the painful one) Derrick Williams with 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting. For those of you keeping track, that’s 85 points between four players on 65 shots.
Everyone of those names jumps off the page. Rudy Gay’s line was supremely efficient (although, to be honest, his shot selection was pretty typically Rudy Gay). DMC has been trying on defense for much of the year, which has been refreshing until it’s against a team you follow because then it’s cause for “Where in the world did this come from and when did he start playing help defense?” discussions. Isaiah Thomas may have actually done the most damage to the Wolves — the way he split PnR defense and performed his drive-and-kicks was destructive.
And then, of course, there’s D-Will, who played angry, engaged and efficient which is just the worst thing he could have possibly done for T-Wolves morale. Meanwhile, his trade counterpart, Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute, didn’t see the court despite Gay’s offensive explosion and LRMAM’s familiarity with Gay’s game.
I haven’t even mentioned Minnesota’s offensive game, mostly because you already know what happened if you’ve been following the Wolves this year. Kevin Love put up a solid line. Pekovic bruised down low. Rubio didn’t shoot very much or very well and everyone in Minnesota blew a gasket in their haste to put tonight’s loss on his shoulders.
That’s not fair, though. Rubio didn’t play well, but he wasn’t the reason Minnesota lost — that distinction seemed to belong to the Wolves’ first-half apathy and the way they accepted that not one, not two, not three but four Sacramento scorers were going to have big games. Rubio is a point guard, not a miracle worker. He is certainly flawed, but he’s not the only flawed member of this team, and all of the flaws worked together in perfect harmony to capsize Minnesota.
If the Wolves could only work together as well as their flaws do, we might have something here. As it stands right now, it’s not panic time but you can certainly see it from here.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.